Oliver William Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (1926-2011)
The Very Reverend Oliver Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, was Dean of Lincoln from 1969 to 1989.
He was the younger son of the 20th Lord Saye and Sele, was born at Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire, on May 17 1926. His great-great-grandfather, the 17th baron, had been Archdeacon of Hereford and earned a mention in Kilvert’s Diary for preaching a sermon described as “a rigmarole”.
Oliver was sent to Eton, but his progress to New College, Oxford – the college attended by many of his ancestors – was hindered by war.
He served in the Rifle Brigade, but the conflict ended before he saw action.
By the time he reached Oxford in 1949 he felt drawn to Holy Orders, and after taking his degree went to Cuddesdon Theological College. In 1954 he was ordained in Winchester Cathedral and spent the next four years as a curate at New Milton. He then became chaplain of Clifton College and, like most of the able young priests of his time, was caught up in the 1960s Church reform movement.
When a rector of Lambeth, in Southwark diocese, was needed in 1963, Bishop Mervyn Stockwood chose Fiennes for the demanding role. The next six years were the happiest in Fiennes’s ministry. The parish church, near the entrance to Lambeth Palace, had been severely damaged in the Blitz and was unusable. But the church hall and two other churches in Lambeth were available, and Fiennes, assisted by a team of four curates, soon began to make an impact.
All the latest ideas of mission and pastoral care were energetically employed, and the rector proved to have a notable gift for arranging informal services for children and their parents.
He became Rural Dean of Lambeth in 1967. It was on the strength of his considerable success in Lambeth that Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who was well aware of what was happening on his own doorstep, and the Bishop of Lincoln, Kenneth Riches, who was desperate for new life to be injected into his cathedral, recommended Fiennes for the Deanery when it fell vacant in 1969.
as a member of one of England’s oldest aristocratic families, Fiennes was deemed the perfect candidate to communicate these to Lincolnshire’s landed gentry.
A zealous reformer was bound to find himself in trouble; and although Fiennes felt committed to the post for no more than five reforming years, he had apparently forgotten the fact that in those days a Deanery was normally a last appointment, and that there was nowhere else for its frustrated or tired occupant to go. He was trapped.
So he soldiered on for 20 long years. His style turned out to be by no means patrician, and he was rarely seen in the great country houses.
He was very much for the common man; his sermons were direct and to the point, and he often complained about the choir’s Latin anthems on the ground that no one in the congregation could understand the words.
His pastoral touch was sure, and no matter how busy he never refused to see anyone, espousing the motto: “Paper is not important, people are.”
He also proved to be a very effective ambassador overseas, particularly when accompanying Lincoln’s copy of Magna Carta on fund-raising expeditions to the United States. The fact that some of his ancestors had witnessed King John’s signature at Runnymede never failed to impress American audiences.
He was a governor of Marlborough College from 1977 to 1988, chairman of the Pilgrims’ Association from 1986 to 1989, and member of the General Synod and a Church Commissioner from 1977 to 1988.
Following his retirement to Colsterworth, Fiennes assisted in many of the rural parishes of the area and was chairman of the St Matthew’s Housing Association, which developed into an important East of England charity.
He viewed the Lincoln Cathedral debacle in the early 1990s with sadness but without surprise.
His final years, following the death of his wife Juliet in 2005, were spent in Lincoln.